Nathan Cleary, who was arguably the best player in the league for the past 18 months, played arguably the game of his life on Friday night.
Still with a bloodshot right eye from his heroic State of Origin approach first game, Cleary returned with another masterly performance in a 38-12 game against the Sydney Roosters.
Cleary even gave the Roosters a 12-point start on Friday night, but that wasn’t nearly enough as Penrith reeled off six unanswered attempts to win.
Most of them came after Rooster’s prop master Sio Siua Taukeiaho was dubiously sinful in the first half, allowing the Panthers to return to the fight with 14 points in his absence.
The overwhelming triumph, which was played in front of 14,406 spectators at BlueBet Stadium, emphatically breaks a losing streak of two games that was played without their seven-person Origin contingent.
And it was Cleary, who topped the Dally M leaderboard with four points to 21 when the voting was done behind closed doors after Round 12, who once again proved why he’s the hottest player in the game.
The co- Panthers captain set up two tries, scored one himself, scored seven out of eight glances on goal, and added a successful referee challenge later in the game.
– Definitely in terms of confidence, (it’s the) highest in his careerâ ?? Coach and dad Ivan said.
“He’s at the stage where he sees the game more clearly and he’s been looking good all week. He was pumped. I was pretty sure he would play well.
Penrith winger and blues teammate Brian Toâ ???? o plunged himself 199 yards with two tries and one lazy game to seven tackle breaks and two Line breaks to go.
The sky opened early, as did the Panthers, who flipped the ball with their first touch when Dylan Edwards spilled his lollipops in a recoil.
Up-and-coming star Joseph Suaalii shot into it Height to scoop Fletcher Baker’s first points and before the home side knew it they were two tries back when Adam Keighran dropped by shortly afterwards.
But the game revolved around Taukeiaho’s marching orders in the 23rd minute when he grabbed Cleary by the head with the top of his arm as he slid to the floor.
They made up for a left shift for Toâ ???? oâ ???? s first soon after, going in with a Cleary penalty kick Leadership before toâ ???? o his second to a salivary flow around the R unde continued. Matt Burton’s corner.
Their end of half went flawlessly, Cleary and Jarome Luai starving the Roosters to death with six line dropouts in possession for the last ten minutes before break.
The second section fizzled out as one Stunned Roosters from a clinical Panthers machine that galloped to the goal with trials against Cleary, Isaah Yeo and Charlie Staines, hardly got a nose.
The defeat of the Roosters, who were brave without eight of their top players, crowns an emotional week in which Captain Boyd Cordner immediately retired.
Firebrand Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was the best of a beaten bunch, going over 120 meters in his dominant opening before ending at 146 meters team height.
Much of the intrigue that entered the competition was the clash between blues newcomer Liam Martin and Angus Crichton, the latter of which would have been a safe choice for Game One if it hadn’t been banned e.
There was a sense that the two were fighting for a spot, but the revelations of Jake Trbojevic’s hip injury mean that Brad Fittler will likely have room for both of them when he names his squad on Sunday.
Next stop for Cleary is the Suncorp Stadium on Sunday week, where he can help seal a series victory and where he will enter the fight as best he can.
â ??? (His preparation is) better than ever. But it’s a big challenge to be up there. I think this will be very different from the first game, ???? said Ivan.
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